×

Why the Peabody Awards Strive to Celebrate Timely Tales

With cutting-edge programming across all categories, the Peabody Awards highlights, in its 78th year, television that boldly explores identity, diversity and the experience of the underrepresented in today’s society — often with a tinge of absurdist humor.

This year’s winners in the entertainment category alone include HBO’s dark comedy “Barry,” about a hitman who would rather realize his potential as an actor; “Random Acts of Flyness,” also from HBO, which examines what it means to be young and black in America through avant-garde sketch comedy; and Netflix’s “The End of the F***ing World,” about a self-identifying teenage psychopath just trying to make it through high school.

The 30 shows selected for the prestigious awards should hopefully form something of a time capsule, says Jeffrey P. Jones, director of the George Foster Peabody Awards at the University of Georgia. “We look for stories that are very connected to the sociopolitical world, or the moment that we’re in as a society.”

Jones uses Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” as an example of a program that breaks ground in addressing toxic masculinity, rape culture and heteronormativity through a familiar medium. “We’ve never seen standup like that — that kind of questions the form, but also speaks to matters that are very much a part of the moment,” says Jones.

While FX’s “Pose” takes place in the 1980s LGBTQ community, its message about inclusivity — or lack thereof — is as topical in today’s America as it was then. “We exist in a moment where there’s active legislatures still trying to remove the rights of LGBTQ citizens,” says Jones.

Other themes reflecting our current cultural experience have also emerged this year. “When you look at our winners, you see strong women, immigration, sexuality and technology as the broad themes that emerge,” he says. “It’s precisely these themes that make our award so powerful. These are the issues of our day. That’s the beauty of the Peabody.”

While the creators of “Killing Eve” never intended to be part of the great feminist wave sweeping pop culture, they now recognize the hunger for non-reductive female characters on television. “There is clearly something in the air,” says “Killing Eve” executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle. “That you can put two extraordinary, multi-layered women, who can be desperately flawed, heroic, joyous and inappropriate, bang center of a show — that then captures the public’s imagination in a way that we never anticipated — I think that there is a yearning for that.”

For the creators of Netflix’s “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” the Peabody speaks to a show’s impact, beyond just cultural representation. “Hasan and I both have always had a chip on our shoulder of not wanting to be considered the diversity hire,” says executive producer and co-creator Prashanth Venkataramanujam. “We want people who watch the show to go, ‘There’s representation, but even if he was a white dude, the content is good.’ That’s why the Peabody matters so much, because it’s saying, ‘Your voice is important, but also the work you’re doing is important — not just because you’re brown and because Hasan is Muslim.’”

The rise of socially relevant yet entertaining television could largely be attributed the emergence of bold new voices in a multi-platform TV landscape that is always hungry for more content. “I feel like what’s been happening in the last five, 10 years of television is that people aren’t diluting their experience,” says Venkataramanujam. “There is a marketplace now that values deep authenticity. Authenticity gets categorized as edgy, but in reality, I think content is getting more honest.”

Mixing the iconic with the topical, Rita Moreno will become the first Latinx Peabody Career Achievement Honor recipient and third PEGOT winner, behind Barbra Streisand and Mike Nichols, when she receives her award at the May 18 ceremony, hosted by Ronan Farrow.

“Given both her recent success with ‘One Day at a Time’ [and] the revival of ‘West Side Story,’ we thought it was important to recognize her creativity and her longevity. She’s done it all,” says Jones. “If there was ever a time to recognize the power and contributions of immigrants, now would be it.”

More TV

  • 9-1-1: LONE STAR: L-R: Rob Lowe

    TV Ratings: '9-1-1: Lone Star' Starts Strong Behind NFC Championship Game

    “9-1-1 Lone Star” got off to a flaming start for Fox in the TV ratings behind the NFC Championship game. The Rob Lowe-fronted series premiere to a 3.2 rating among adults 18-49 and 11.5 million viewers in the time zone-adjusted ratings, which represents easily the best scripted debut of the 2019-2020 season. “Lone Star” had [...]

  • Ariel Winograd'TOD@S CAEN' film premiere, Los

    Viacom International Studios Signs First Look Deal with Ariel Winograd (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Adding to a powerful and still growing talent roster, Viacom International Studios (VIS) has clinched a first-look deal with Argentine writer-director Ariel Winograd whose latest movie, “The Heist of the Century,” has just become one of the biggest Argentine openers in history. The multi-year pact takes in the development and production of not [...]

  • William Bogert Dead: 'Small Wonder' Actor

    William Bogert, Who Appeared in 'War Games,' 'Small Wonder,' Dies at 83

    TV, film and theater actor William Bogert, who appeared in a recurring role on 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” and in films such as “War Games,” died Jan. 12 in New York. He was 83. On “Small Wonder,” which ran from 1985 to 1989, Bogert played Brandon Brindle, the Lawsons’ neighbor and Harriet’s father who became [...]

  • Editorial Use OnlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    TV Ratings: NFL's AFC, NFC Championship Games Down From 2019

    The NFL’s AFC and NFC championship games made for a blockbuster Sunday of football for CBS and Fox, but viewership of the games that determine the contenders for the Super Bowl was down from 2019 levels. CBS’ AFC championship in the 3 p.m. ET afternoon slot delivered 41.1 million viewers as the Kansas City Chiefs [...]

  • Medici TV Show

    Vuulr Online Rights Market Makes Global Expansion at NATPE

    Singapore-based Vuulr, an online content marketplace for film and TV rights, is expanding from regional to global operations. The move was announced ahead of NATPE, one of the oldest face-to-face TV rights markets, this week launching its tenth edition in Miami, Florida (Jan 21-23). The Vuulr platform is free to use for buyers and for [...]

  • What to Watch on TV This

    What to Watch on TV This Week: ‘Picard' Premieres and 'Shrill' Returns

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Star Trek: Picard” beams into existence on CBS All Access and “Shrill” returns [...]

  • SAG Awards 2020: What You Didn't

    SAG Awards 2020: From Charlize Theron to 'Parasite,' What You Didn't See on TV

    Brad Pitt made a crack about his marriages. Robert De Niro got political. And Jennifer Aniston talked about appearing in a commercial for Bob’s Big Boy. Those were just some of thing that happened on stage at the SAG Awards that were broadcast on TNT/TBS on Sunday night. However, Variety was inside the Shrine Auditorium [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content